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Last Updated: Friday, 11 November 2005, 12:20 GMT
Q&A: Liberia's election
US-educated banker Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has claimed victory in Liberia's first presidential elections since the end of 14 years of civil war. If confirmed, she will be Africa's first elected female head of state.

She has a commanding lead with 91% of the votes counted but her rival, football star George Weah, says there has been fraud.

Supporters of presidential candidate Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's supporters say Liberia needs a woman's touch
When will the results be declared?

The National Elections Commission has two weeks to officially announce the results. It may take a while yet for all the results to be brought in from the most remote jungle areas of Liberia, whose infrastructure was destroyed in the war.

In the meantime, diplomats will be speaking to Mr Weah and Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf to try to calm tensions.

Is there any danger of violence?

It is a possibility but the entire election process to date has been remarkably peaceful.

The fear comes from the fact that most of Liberia's 100,000 ex-combatants backed Mr Weah, whichever side they were on during the war.

These young men are used to fighting and feel that their candidate has been cheated - a dangerous combination.

Some of the former warlords have also thrown their weight behind Mr Weah.

However, the 15,000 UN peacekeepers have increased their patrols in the capital, Monrovia and across the country.

They should be able to contain small-scale unrest.

Mr Weah has urged his supporters to remain calm until investigations into the fraud allegations are completed.

Have the ex-fighters not disarmed?

They are supposed to have handed in their weapons to a UN-backed programme but diplomats agree that some are bound to have hidden a few weapons as an "insurance policy".

They were also supposed to have received training in areas such as car mechanics or tailoring so they could earn their living in civilian life.

However, not all finished the training and some sold the tools they were given, so some could again be available as "guns for hire".

Is it a surprise that Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf seems to have won?

To some extent. Liberia remains a male-dominated society and some thought, despite her "Iron Lady" nickname, a woman would not be tough enough to deal with all the challenges ahead - including the ex-combatants.

Guide to Liberia and its recent turbulent history

And George Weah's life story of going from a Monrovia slum to footballer of the year attracted many people looking for some hope in the war-torn country.

But Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf's supporters highlighting Mr Weah's lack of education seems to have worked.

She is a Harvard-educated banker and so, her supporters argued, was the perfect person to get Liberia's economy up and running.

They also said the country needed a healing, woman's touch after being destroyed by men.

What is Liberia like?

Liberia is a beautiful country with swamps, beaches and thick rainforest.

But after 14 years of war, there is no running water or mains electricity even in Monrovia, let alone remote towns or villages.

Roads, schools and hospitals all need to be rebuilt and qualified and honest staff are needed to provide basic social services.

Why does Liberia matter?

Apart from the suffering of three million Liberians over the past 14 years, the fighting in Liberia has also spread to Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Guinea.

If peace continues to hold in Liberia, much of West Africa will be able to breath more easily. Liberian mercenaries might be tempted to return home and earn an honest living instead of spreading mayhem across the region.

If fighting resumes, however, there is the danger it could once more spread.

How did the war end?

Former warlord and President Charles Taylor agreed to step down under pressure from rebels at the gates of Monrovia and US marines anchored just off the coast.

He is now in exile in Nigeria and faces 17 charges of crimes against humanity from a UN-backed war crimes court in Sierra Leone for his alleged involvement with rebel fighters there.

Whoever takes over as Liberia's president in January will have to decide what to do with Mr Taylor, as Nigeria has said he should be handed over to an elected government in Liberia, rather than the Special Court of Sierra Leone.


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